Clean-up under way in flood-hit Cornwall

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The Independent Online

A major clean-up was under way today as flood-battered Cornwall recovered from devastating torrential rain.

Residents, businesses and council staff faced the task of removing flood water and inch-thick mud from homes, shops and streets after floods hit the county yesterday.

About 100 homes were evacuated by the emergency services after Devon and Cornwall Police declared a "major incident".

Meteorologists said heavy showers continued throughout the early hours of this morning - although not as severe as the original deluge on Tuesday night and yesterday morning - and the Environment Agency warned of the risk of further flooding.

A forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "There have been heavy localised showers over the whole of Devon and Cornwall throughout the early hours of this morning.

"They started at around midnight and have not been torrential or prolonged, but the rain is falling on ground which is already saturated."

The heavy rains and gale-force winds brought misery to St Austell, Lostwithiel, St Blazey, Bodmin, Par, Mevagissey and Luxulyan.

There were no reports of serious injuries but scores of residents were evacuated from their homes, schools closed, the transport network hugely disrupted and train services stopped by a landslide at Lostwithiel.

As a precaution police closed the 700-year-old bridge over the River Fowey in Lostwithiel as it had been battered for several hours by flood water and there were fears it might give way under the strain.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised Cornwall as much help as it needed to get back on its feet after residents awoke to find their homes and businesses under several feet of muddy water.

Yesterday the clean-up operation got under way to remove thick mud and debris from people's homes and affected streets.

It evoked memories of the 2004 floods in the north Cornwall village of Boscastle.

Barry Green, 46, owner of Lostwithiel Bakery, was at work when the River Fowey burst its banks.

He said his premises in Quay Street were "pretty much destroyed".

"The speed of it was very, very surprising. One minute I was making bread, the next I was wading waist-high through muddy water," he said.

"We've had people coming in to help but it's pretty much destroyed the shop."

The Environment Agency said today that four flood warnings and 15 flood watches were in force for rivers across the region.

"The Met Office has forecast showers into Thursday, with the possibility of heavy localised showers," a spokesman said.

"This rainfall will fall on already saturated ground, resulting in a risk of further flooding in Cornwall."

The Agency said more than 200 properties had been protected by local flood defence schemes, including St Ives, Truro, Bodmin and Tavistock.

As well as police and fire crews, Coastguard rescue teams helped with the search missions, along with RAF helicopters.

Weather experts said Cardinham, on Bodmin, recorded 0.74in (18.8mm) of rain in one hour and 2in (50mm) in nine hours, and added that more rain was on the way.

Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson praised the response from all the agencies involved in the flooding.

"This was a very serious incident and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the flooding," he said.

"Almost every part of the council has been involved in dealing with the incident.

"It is also important to pay tribute to all those people who helped their neighbours - this was a real example of communities working together to support each other."

Last night, Cornwall Council held a series of public meetings in Lostwithiel, St Blazey and Mevagissey to provide residents and councillors with the latest information and to offer support and advice.

They were attended by representatives from all the major agencies dealing with the incident, including police, council highways, fire and rescue and health workers.

Cornwall was hit on the first anniversary of the floods which devastated Cumbria and claimed the life of Pc Bill Barker, 44.

He was guarding the Northside Bridge in Workington on the eve of his birthday when it collapsed, throwing him into the River Derwent.

Today, forecasters predicted further showers in Cornwall and the South West throughout the morning, but said they would become more isolated during the day before dying away this evening.

The Environment Agency downgraded the number of flood warnings to three, and the number of flood watches to 13, following the early showers, which were less torrential and prolonged than 24 hours earlier.

The warnings were issued on stretches of the River Clyst, Axe and Culm.

Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, said flood waters were receding in Cornwall and the clean-up was under way. But he warned future flood defence works might be hampered by a tight funding settlement.

"You will never be able to guard against every contingency where the force of nature is operating in this sort of way," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Flood is always a traumatic thing for everyone whose home or business is affected in this way. The good news is that now the flood waters are receding in Cornwall and now the clean-up operation has to get under way."

Lord Smith said the agency would receive £2.1 billion in Government funds over the next four years, enabling it to complete existing projects.

But he added: "Where we will have difficulty, I fear, over the coming couple of years is in starting new flood defences that might have been possible."

Today's clean-up operations in the flood-battered county also come as a large flood response demonstration takes place in Hampshire.

It is part of Operation Watermark, a Government-led initiative to test the nation's response to flooding which culminates in a nationwide flood exercise in March next year.

Today's exercise will last for two days and involve a number of emergency workers simulating a response to severe weather and a flooded campsite.